If Philadelphia can have a championship football team, it also can have a dance club with a ball pit and a sports bar with an ice lounge. Yes, it's fun to be a grown-up. Also this week, we visit an old favorite for vegetarian Chinese food and a new pub at a casino, while Craig LaBan weighs in with Valentine's ideas. If you need food news, click here and follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Email tips, suggestions, and questions here. If someone forwarded you this free newsletter and you like what you're reading, sign up here to get it every week.
Baby, it's cold inside. That would be the ice lounge, basically a walk-in freezer inside the new Clubhouse Sports Lounge, below Davio's at 111 S. 17th St. Clubhouse, formerly 1925 Lounge, has comfy seating, an impressive array of TVs tuned to sports, two themed escape rooms (one Titanic, and the second, expected to open soon, a casino-heist concept), two full-service bars, pool tables, and a sports-bar menu.
The ice room, chilled below 20 degrees, is decorated with Philadelphia-themed ice carvings and is lit by LEDs. Patrons may buy shots served in glasses made of ice cubes and sit on an ice ledge. (I'm guessing that this will be a bigger draw in the summer.) Clubhouse is open from 11:30 a.m. till late Tuesday to Sunday, and from 4:30 p.m. till late Monday.
A block or so away is Concourse Dance Bar, on the lower level of 1635 Market St., replacing the offtrack betting club. Last weekend's opening was rocking on the 500-person dance floor, which benefits from a solid lighting system, DJs playing a mix of throwback and current music tunes, and two large bars serving such retro drinks as Sex on the Beach (made with local Stateside vodka) and the Pop Rocktail (champagne and razzmatazz topped with Pop Rocks). Behind the bars, TV monitors stream music videos. Everyone is talking about the ball pit — equipped with lighted balls — that can fit 20 people, most of whom will dive in and lose their phones. Cover is $5; there's no food. For now, Concourse hours are 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday.
Elevation, at R2L
Happy hour at Daniel Stern's sumptuously appointed R2L, on the 37th floor of Two Liberty Place, runs from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. weekdays. This time of year, watch the sun set while sipping a discounted cocktail — perhaps the Elevation (gin, Luxardo, Parfait d'Amour, and lemon) or the seasonal Sunset Punch. Food specials include $2 snack-size burgers, including one made with crispy skate cheek and topped with rémoulade and slaw.
It might be easy to overlook Su Xing House, tucked into a Sansom Street restaurant row that includes Snap Custom Pizza, the Oyster House, and Mission Taqueria. To vegetarians and their friends, it's a mecca for fair-priced nonmeat versions of Chinese favorites, such as the soft tofu with black bean sauce, broccoli, and mushrooms, as well as seldom-found dishes such as lotus-and-peanut soup. Kind service rounds out the experience.
Two old favorites in Rittenhouse changed hands this month: Twenty Manning Grill and Audrey Claire BYOB, as founder Audrey Taichman sold to Rouge owner Rob Wasserman. The deal also sent chef Michael Yeamans, an early chef at Rouge, into the kitchens of both Audrey Claire and Twenty Manning, a hop, skip, and jump across 20th Street. The elegantly spare AC keeps its Mediterranean BYOB flavor, while the smartly appointed TMG, whose bar remains among the buzziest in the neighborhood, holds to its new-American menu. Exhibit A: the Chinese five-spiced braised beef short rib with baby bok choy and mashed potato. Rich, hearty, bold.
Parx Casino in Bensalem, pumping up its food offerings to supplement its new 1,500-seat Xcite Center, has opened the roomy Liberty Bell Gastropub, a slick blend of rough-hewn and contemporary. Comfort-food menu, whose ingredients are mostly locally sourced, includes chicken prepared in two enormous rotisseries and a selection of burgers made from grass-fed Pennsylvania beef. This truffle burger is topped with truffle aioli, mushroom Brie, sautéed wild mushrooms, grilled onions, on an onion brioche bun. Truffle fries, too.
Bryn + Dane's | Malvern
The western suburbs get a branch of the fast-casual shop specializing in smoothies, açaí bowls, and other healthful foodstuff.
Emiliano's Pizza | Warminster
The Willow Grove pizzeria has set up in Warminster Shopping Center (348 York Rd.), replacing a Tony Luke's.
Jason's Cozyday | Manayunk
Jason Kim, who's been on an opening streak of late, has reprised his Olney Korean bar in a storefront at 4371 Main St., near his At Ramen MNYK.
Town Tap | Havertown
Conshohocken Brewing Co. has set up a tasting room behind garage doors.
Question: What's your advice for Valentine's Day dinner?
Craig LaBan: Cook at home! It's one of the worst nights of the year to eat out, when the staff can be overwhelmed, diners are often tense with inflated expectations, and limited cookie-cutter prix fixe menus can suck the life and spontaneous fun out of a good restaurant.
That said, the day is fraught with danger if you don't have a solid dinner plan in place. This year, I've got a spicy marinara in the works that has a date with some seafood and linguine (my proposal meal from 20-plus years ago is still a good move).
If I weren't able to cook at home, I'd aim to zig away from the big obvious names in Center City for more interactive food adventures farther afield. I'm thinking of something exotic and shareable like the charcoal-grilled Malaysian skewers at Saté Kampar on East Passyunk, or a hot volcanic molcajete bowl of amor at one of my favorite South Philly Mexican spots (Blue Corn, Mole Poblano, Los Gallos, to name a few), or maybe a hands-on injera feast at one of the good Ethiopian destinations in West Philly, like Abyssinia (229 S. 45th St.). When you two meet in the middle of that big table-sized crepe over a mound of spicy kitfo, it's time to go home.
Love the idea of a sushi meal, too, because there is nothing more sensual than sushi. But also, few things are more festive than sharing a big pan of paella. Try one in the upstairs dining room at Tio Pepe on Castor Avenue, one of the hidden gems I came across in my journey through Northeast Philly. Or maybe an Uzbek lamb fest among the cushions and floor-to-ceiling kilims at Suzani … There's a world of options out there.
However, I'd be very cautious about going the heart-shaped pizza route. I had a tip from a regular on my chat that South Philly's Pesto Pizzeria makes a solid heart pie. It's an independent I've not tried, though connected to Ristorante Pesto, which I've enjoyed. I've seen too many "sad heart pizza" memes over the past year, though, to even think of ordering such a thing from a chain. If you call-in Valentine's dinner from Domino's or Papa John's and are surprised to find a lopsided ovoid of greasy goo and crust when you open the box, you deserve what you get. (Talk about food as metaphor for a relationship!)
But I'm lucky. My wife always says: "If you're with the person you want to be with, it doesn't matter where you go." So, I should be golden no matter what I do, right? As long as I have a plan ….